Category Archives: Body, House, Yard, Street

Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”
The Mirthologist says, “All columns is local.” Especially these.

Time to Turn Over New Leaf — or Not

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 9 November 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

I’d like to think I was a normal, tidy homeowner. The neighbors here seem to disagree. You can tell by what they don’t say, those odd silences when our paths cross putting outgoing mail out in the mornings, checking the mailbox in the afternoons. The way they wave and seem to glance at all the leaves in your yard with disdain. Maybe it’s pity.

Our fellow residents here are as critical as the ones we left in Little Rock. They’re nice as can be, but isn’t that for show? Surely I am not paranoid, nor am I feeling guilty about not having begun to rake.

Don’t they know how busy we are?

During the spring and most of the summer — until the drought joyfully dried up our sparse tufts of grass — I mowed my yard within a week of its needing it — a week after it turned shaggy. I edged once, maybe twice.

The leaves began falling three weeks ago. Maybe four. Or five. Six weeks at the most. I think I was waiting for the first frost. That came about a week ago. That caused another bundle to leave our oaks, maples and dogwoods.

This made the azalea bushes nervous. They seem to look through their chirpy little oval leaves up to the bare trees nearby and say, “What do you mean, next?”

The weather in a day jumped back up 30 or 40 degrees: Perfect raking weather, but, of course, I couldn’t take off from my job.

Then the first weekend after the first frost arrived.

We luxuriantly loafed Saturday, but Sunday the guilt began about noon. Cars drove by, and people pointed. Or may have pointed. Car windows are so deeply tinted these days, who knows? You have to use your imagination.

So I then read the three local newspapers. Finally, I got out the rakes, gloves, a tarp to rake leaves onto and the electric leaf-blower-slash-vacuum-mulcher.

I didn’t want to bag unshredded leaves and leave them on the curb for the city crews to pick up. We compost for an organic yard and garden beds.

Last spring, I created a 3-foot-wide bin from 48-inch wire fencing. A few weeks ago, I wired up three 3-foot-diameter bins from 36-inch-high fencing.

The compost cylinders are against a stone wall out back.

One has kitchen scraps (no meat or dairy but eggshells are good) from throughout the year mixed with a few leaves I chopped in the spring. The others were ready for 100 percent leaves.

My wife raked the tree debris into tall piles, and I poked the leaf-vacuum nozzle in them.

We worked all afternoon, repeatedly emptying the leaf blower-vac’s nylon bag into the three yard-tall bins and part of the 4-footer with finely chopped leaves and perhaps a candy wrapper or two.

I wore a paper dust mask and a pair of $1 safety goggles. The rote work allowed me to daydream.

“Dr. Pollock, Dr. Pollock, you’re needed in surgery. Stat! Hurry! So don’t change! The yard mask and goggles are fine for Fayetteville General’s O.R.”

Ta-pocketa-pocketa-pocketa, goes the instrument monitoring my patient, the once-feisty bachelor millionaire, the old rake.

(Who am I, Walter Mitty’s nephew?)

As the afternoon wore on, the faster I got. Was it because the bag unhooked quicker from the leaf blower-vac? Maybe something broke; that’s why it started coming off easily.

Or was it because my goggles got progressively more caked with sweat and leaf dust and I simply couldn’t determine how thorough I was plowing through the leaf piles.

Then the unseasonable heat began falling. Mosquitoes came out. Should I stop and spray insect repellent? No, we must press on.

It also was getting darker. I needed to hurry to finish the front. The back yard would have to wait for another weekend, perhaps another year.

My wife finished raking, leaving me several piles. She probably was reading the paper, or perhaps performing chores — dinner … please, please let dinner be one of them.

The sky grew dark; so my speed increased. Between the almost-opaque goggles and the twilight I simply could not see, but I could guess by kicking where the piles seem to have been. No leaves meant I completed that spot.

The neighbors surely were lined up at their windows, silently cheering at how clean the Pollock yard was.

It was only the next morning when I saw how many leaves were left on the lawn. Before Sunday, they were up to 6 inches thick; now grass and compacted dirt could be seen in patches, next to the last brown and yellow leaves, up to 3 inches thick.

Did I leave them? Perhaps a major leaf fall occurred during the night. I sought solace from Organic Gardening magazine. A recent issue reported fallen leaves are good for the lawn. Chop some for compost and leave the rest to naturally fertilize and protect the lawn: You don’t see deer and bears out raking up verdant meadows and forests, do you?

My neighbors, however, are not animals. The growling I think I hear when I fetched the papers in my robe probably comes from their cursing the organic leaf fall that will stay on the lawn until the lawn mower comes out in the spring, three weeks after theirs.


Drawing’s on the Blank Side of My Brain

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 21 March 1990 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

Research in the 1950s found the left and right halves of the brain have different functions, and experiments in the 1960s proved the left hemisphere is in charge of logical number crunching — straight-line thinking — while the right side intuitive connects parts — finds the whole picture.

The left half thus is the computer and the right the artist. There’s no accounting for taste.

This is insufficient to explain some human weaknesses. I can however, and the latest diagnostic medical equipment isn’t refined enough to prove me wrong. The brain is not halved but quartered. My drawing skill indicates I’m right.

The physical separation of the brain is lengthwise, according to computer tomography (CT scan, $800) and magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI, $1,100, with 10 wallet reprints another $20). Philosophically, the brain also can be halved again, crosswise over the hemispheres.

The bottom half is in charge of reluctance, inertia, timidity and laziness. These three halves — left, right and lower — comprise the Trilateral Omission.

What about the fourth half? The top is simple and pure. Its function is to hold a hat.

The brain bottom makes you work hard to get a noble project off the ground, then reverses electrical polarity and lets you off the hook a week or two later with absolutely no effort.

I can prove this by my desire to make pictures. Other people have the same problem in sticking to exercise, diet or even a schedule of reading the Great Books. We know these activities are good for us, and can be pleasurable, but such motivations are not enough to drive the Trilateral Omission.

This effect is wholly inactive during childhood. Then, parents and teachers enforce habits. The brain bottom matures in adolescence, when the onset of acne, dating and driving force judgment calls — and their consequences.

The decisions can be narrowed to choosing acts of commission and omission, hence the origin of the effect’s scientific name — the term “commission” disqualified for already having a reputation.

The Trilateral Omission has never been reported in any scientific or academic journal, and hence is not subject to verification. Aren’t we lucky.

The T.O. theory is the only explanation I have for being otherwise perfect — I exercise regularly, eat nutritiously, write creatively and play euphonium — yet have no will power to develop graphic skills.

I have tried to enjoy this hobby ever since taking an introductory art course in my senior year of college a decade ago For one to three times year since, I have taken evening drawing or watercolor classes. But when I wake up on a Saturday and consider whether to spend the morning with an open pad and sharp pencil, I go back to sleep.

Experts say adults must admit their childlike selves exist inside, which needs to be let out for self-actualization.

I know my childlike self. It comes and goes as it pleases.

That is why I need classes to be artistic. My inner child needs an authority figure. If the continuing-education teacher did not assign projects and supervise me, my paper would remain white.

I enjoy painting once I get started and have been told I have some artistic talent that, with guided practice, could blossom. For me, these incentives are insufficient.

The hemisphere scientists believe this is my analytical left brain intimidating my imaginative right brain into a paralysis. Psychologists have the solution: The right brain must trick the left into retreat. Easy? Sure.

I haven’t had a community adult class in about 10 months. For a fraction of the tuition I could train myself, my imaginative right brain realized. Buying a lot of extra art supplies would prevent the right from feeling guilty — a left-brain trick — when I create catastrophes by this trial-and-error teaching method.

My brain’s bottom half hasn’t fallen for this ruse. I think it is in charge of writing this column, as a matter of fact.

“I think.” Who’s doing this so-called thinking? Who’s in charge here? The top, hat-holder half?


Bachelor’s Pad Home to ‘Pet’ Pals

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 3 September 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

Like others who have grown accustomed to being single, I have gradually surrounded myself with pets. They take the edge off loneliness, but the responsibility of ensuring their well-being accompanies a very real love.

Both the duty and the affection provide an obligation to get up in the morning then a longing to return quickly after work. Pangs of guilt now diminish the pleasure of a weekend away.

Different people require different pets. How do you know which is right for you? As will be obvious in a couple of paragraphs, the traditional answers don’t always fit. I’m left with showing what has worked to make my bachelor pad a home. Maybe this family will enlighten you.

One repeated explanation is that pets are said to resemble their masters. My 8-year-old cat has dark brown and butterscotch splotches over a white body. I don’t, except after dinner.

Maybe personalities are what’s similar. That leads to another question. Do we pick from the pound the animal that hits us right in the vanity, or does the beloved pet over the years come to imitate our mannerisms?

My calico’s unpredictability never has ceased to amaze me. I surprise others at times, myself. If the mood strikes, B.C. (Ben’s Cat) will play fetch with a small toy, just like a dog. I usually don’t imitate other species’ games; humans’ are sufficient.

This cat is friendly only with me and one or two other people. More than that, and she hides behind the claw-footed tub. I use social masks to hide; they’re more convenient and less prone to mildew.

B.C. may resemble me but then is nothing like my other pets, which vary from one another as well. If they resemble me as well, who am I?

Dowel Jones is a stick horse I found at a crafts show last fall, named for a fictional hobbyhorse I have long written about. In the flesh, or wood, he looks far different than imagined. The one stabled in my apartment has a blue-and-white striped mane, not polka-dotted as I had thought. Unlike, B.C. Dowel loves parties and gets in front of any camera. I, of course, remain an arm’s length away.

I spoil B.C. and Dowel. My other pet, too, is spoiled, but in a biological sense. I love this pot of single-cell organisms, my sourdough starter. After nearly a year, the two cups of liquid remains unnamed, primarily because the pet pot is as much a them as an it.

It takes up less room than my cat or horse, with simple maintenance requirements. Every day it gets stirred half a minute with a chopstick. Much like brushing the cat, once a week I take out a cup — much like shed fur — then feed it with fresh water, sugar and dehydrated potato flakes.

(Other people’s starters instead are fed some flour mixed with milk or water, but as discussed before, people match their pets.)

The starter and I play on weekend mornings, making loaves or muffins or pancakes. The potato-sugar-water dinner is its reward. For the rest of the afternoon, it sits on the kitchen counter, gurgling as it digests. Then back into the fridge for a long nap.

Isn’t this a pet? My sourdough starter is docile, performs tricks sometimes more amazing than yeast. Best of all, it will listen to me for hours, unlike my cats, who walks off after a while.


Shady Hill Rest Home Residents Thrive on Loving Care, Lick Bowls Clean

Loose Leaves, 1st run Sunday 9 July 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Maybe it’s a happy circumstance for the hermit side of me, but my wife and I have become increasingly reluctant to entertain visitors. The house has taken an odor.

Yesterday, in the fresh air of the yard, I figured it out. Our house, Shady Hill, has become a rest home.

We are the nurses of and custodians for two elderly cats.

Like all nursing homes, two odors predominate: Bodily waste and disinfectant cleaners.

Maybe Shady Hill smells fine but for the weather. The slight stench took over in this past month of strong, daily rains. Cloud cover reduced the times that the air-conditioning cycled on. Smells settled in. The unpredictability of the rains forced us to keep windows shut, to keep the sills dry. Smells settled in.

Then again, Champagne turns 19 in August, and B.C. had her 16th birthday in late May.

We now live in the Shady Hill Rest Home.

Though older, my wife’s tabby, Champagne, is healthier than B.C. A tortoiseshell of medium-length fur, Champagne was a little heavy before marriage gained her a half-sister. B.C. (for Ben’s Cat) did not like company and chased Champagne around the house frequently. This gave both cats high stamina and renewed health. Champagne slimmed down.

B.C. doesn’t slap Champagne but about once a week now. Every couple of days they touch noses when their paths cross, without hissing. Progress.

Champagne had a setback in 1997. While we were reading in the living room, we heard a thud from the kitchen. Seconds later, Champagne carried a mouse to my wife’s closet, where she left the carcass as a token of love.

Champagne evidently leaped to surprise her prey. She quickly developed a limp that our veterinarian diagnosed as spondylolysis. The huntress had to be kept locked in a bathroom for days to restrict her movements. The limp went away after several months.

The only jumps she makes now are to our bed, but she uses a Rubbermaid footstool. She knows that two 12-inch hops are more comfortable than one giant leap for a good nap on a quilt.

Our Fayetteville vet has pronounced Champagne in remarkable physical health, like a cat years younger.

Mentally, she can’t always hit the top of a scratching post.

Always vocal, Champagne has a distinct lingering cry after Mommy goes to work. In the last year, Champagne howls several times a day — and night — when we are out of her line of sight.

If I hear the yowl, I walk around to where she can see me. She can’t hear so well. Champagne starts as if surprised then relaxes her ears as if, “Oh, there you are.”

Her other sign of aging is that she obviously believes that if all four paws are in the litter box, then the ensuing evacuation must fall into the box.


Fortunately, Shady Hill has plenty of old newspaper. B.C. hears fine but listens rarely; she still has all her wits. She loves high places and jumps almost as high as when a kitten. Though younger, B.C. has beat one illness. Blood tests indicated in 1998 that she needed a daily thyroid tablet.

In 1999, more tests proved her thyroid normal but an inactive pancreas was causing digestive problems. B.C. gets one Viokase tablet twice a day crushed in with a bit of smelly canned cat food to disguise the taste.

You can pill a cat for a week, but it cannot be done month in and month out. B.C. can regurgitate a pill, only slightly dissolved (due to the lack of pancreatic enzyme), a half-hour after pilling, according to scientific observation. It went all the way down and comes all the way up.

During her bad weeks, B.C. leaves, er, samples when either urge comes upon her too quickly to trot to a litter box. The only solution, and I’ve tried them all, has been to leave newspaper on the floor near her favorite places — by my writing desk and by the family computer.

While Champagne has become quite friendly when she gets to know you — it took me nearly two years of dating her mother — and is shy otherwise, B.C. is a traditionally aloof cat.

B.C. never has liked being held. For most of her life, she only would get on my lap when chilled. Yet, get on her level — floor, bed or shelf — and she is affectionate.

In recent weeks, however, B.C. has taken to following me like a puppy. When home I cannot be out of her sight. B.C. insists on being stroked. I now can brush her for much longer than three minutes, but that might irritate her skin so I don’t. She even jumps on my lap in summer.

At night, she climbs repeatedly on my chest and looks at my face, purring. After a few minutes she’ll resume her spot of 16 years between my ankles. If I mistakenly fall asleep on my stomach, she will nuzzle my face, waking me up enough to turn so she can rest her forepaws on my front.

I love the attention.

But what if B.C. is telling me something?


And the Winner Is Hands-Down

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 25 January 2000 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 2000 Donrey Media Group

Welcome to the Ben’s Academy of Pooh-bah Arts and Sciences Awards Show. Coming to you live from the old Royal typewriter in beautiful downstairs Burbank, we present the Best of the Morning.

Here’s your host, Pooh-bah Ben.

Hello, everyone.

This is not the Golden Globe Awards. As you know, the Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and Tonys have rigorous standards: Their members vote to select nominees and then winners, subject to audit. That still doesn’t mean their standards are our standards.

Golden Globes come from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. How American are the Foreign Press standards?

The Pooh-bah Best of the Morning Awards have one judge, me, which makes them unambiguously subjective. Isn’t that better?

There are only a few reasons any of these shows are watched.

First, beautiful women in slinky gowns (applause). Second, the off-hand remarks comprise some of the best humor on TV (laughter).

Lastly, there is the horse-race aspect: We do want to know whether the music we enjoyed on the stereo won and whether the movies that we remembered days after we saw them won (cheers).

Once we acknowledge that the purpose of the awards is to persuade us to buy tickets, rent videos and purchase albums, then we can just sit back and watch the parade of sequels, I mean, sequins.

The only award contest that measures quality accurately is a presidential election (guffaws).

So now, on with the show.

Our first award in the Pooh-bah Best of the Morning contest is for best garbage bag. Our nominees include the Zippy bag, the house-brand liner from the neighborhood supermarket and the magenta, city-of-Fayetteville, 30-gallon bag, which was introduced just before deadline.

And the winner is — the Fayetteville trash sack!

“I want to thank the Member of the Academy, and I want to thank the mayor and City Council, because my implementation was an administrative decision that they had little to do with. To bring this up short, the Department of Water, Sanitation, Recycling, Storm Runoff and Potability has my undying gratitude.

“Don’t bring up the music yet. I’m not deflated yet. I cannot leave the stage without thanking the Pollock household for putting sharp objects in the recycling box, not in me, so I don’t rip before my time.”

Get that bag off the curb; it’s an eyesore! Now then. The nominees for best writing implement are pencil, fountain pen, smudgy disposable ball pen and computer.

And the winner is — the pencil!

“I don’t know why the Member of the Academy picked me. Everything in my field is a winner. To me, they all get high marks — well, maybe not the computer, hah-hah. The press is going to say this is like the best-supporting actor prize, going to the has-been at death’s door, but let me assure everyone that I have never felt sharper. Thanks, everyone.”

The nominees for best toilet article are toothbrush, safety razor and cup. And the winner is — the razor!

“What a surprise. First I have to thank the cartridges the Face bought. Each lasts 2 1/2 weeks, and that was before the Face started his goatee and mustache, where I now shave only half the skin that I used to.

“I too want to thank the Fayetteville water works. I agree with the magenta city garbage bag. Without the high pressure of the water works, not to mention the hot water provided by the Sears tank in the closet next to beautiful downstairs Burbank, the Face’s whiskers never would be completely rinsed from between my twin blades.

“Whew, am I strapped for time! But, if lather and nubbins were not rinsed off, I wouldn’t be standing here. One thing you can say about me, however, is that I am not dull.”

But that speech sure was. That was the expected wry quip from the quick-thinking host.

The nominations for best part of the day are breakfast, lunch, dinner, bedtime and nap time.

And the best part of the day is — breakfast, a team award!

“Corn flakes here. I just want to thank the skim milk. Without milk, I’m cardboard. With milk, I turn to mush.”

“Hi, I’m a tea bag. I’d like to thank the technicians at Industrial Light and Magic for digitizing the flow-through concept.”

Sorry, the rest of you can give your thanks in the press room.

The last category is most interesting reading for the most important time of the day. The nominees are the local newspapers and the corn flakes box.

And the winner is — corn flakes! This is Corn Flakes’ second win tonight and third for his career. The corn stalks on which he was grown had won best of show at the Iowa State Fair.

“I want to thank Farmer Jones, the folks at Battle Creek, Michigan, my Teamsters driver and the supermarket where I didn’t sit on the shelf too long at all. You know, an overnight success sometimes takes weeks!

There goes the music. You’ve been a lovely audience. Well, that’s our show. Now, it’s time for a nap.


Helpful Household Hints neither Hamper nor Hinder

Loose Leaves, 1st run Tuesday 17 August 1999 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1999 Donrey Media Group

This fact is not common knowledge, perhaps because I just made it up, but all columnists not only know one another but work in the same room. Eli the household hints writer in fact sits in the next cubicle. She had to run out to get her car fixed and asked me to fill in.

Dear Eli,

I was just replacing the baking soda in the refrigerator, where you say it removes odor, and it occurred to me I could use it to bake with. It is called “baking” soda after all.

I looked in some cookbooks and there was baking soda in almost every quick-bread recipe. The muffins were delish. Next I’m going to bake a cake.


Hi, Tish-a-bish,

That’s a great idea, baking with baking soda. I’ll have to add it to my next edition of “100 Ways to Use Baking Soda.” Now it’ll be what, 101?


Dear Eli,

I was carrying a jug of vinegar to clean windows but accidentally spilled some onto kale simmering on the stove.

Eli, it was a big mess of greens and I hated to throw out the whole pot. So I thought I better give them a little taste to see if I could salvage them. That tablespoon or so of vinegar perked the taste of those leaves right up. No one in the family got sick.

Eli, did you know just about all bottled salad dressings have vinegar? Pickles, too. Vinegar must be some kind of preservative, too. What a condiment!


Hi, Fred-he-said,

You readers are just filling my thick calendar-organizer. Here I am having to rewrite my baking-soda booklet, and you write in. Now I have to throw out my “98 Ways to Use Vinegar” and make it what, 99, 100, 101 for flavor enhancer, homemade dressings and pickling brine.

Dear Eli,

I was just about to wad up newspaper to polish the mirror with when I saw in it an article about refugees in Kosovo. I had no idea of their troubles!

Then there was an article about the president, and I just had to read it. Then there were some comics, and they tickled me so much they made my morning.

There’s a whole world out there. I didn’t clean the mirror until after lunch.

Just wanted to share my new use for newspaper. We’ve been subscribing for years, not just to clean glass with but also for the pets to poop on. My Henry takes the rest of the paper to use in the yard.


Hi, Kim-Simmer,

You know, if it wasn’t for newspapers, I wouldn’t have a job.

Dear Eli,

Henry here. Was going to send a note come fall but, since the missus is addressing you an envelope, thought we could save a stamp.

Back in the spring I spread newspaper real thick in the garden beds and put transplants in holes I cut out with a pocket knife. Sure enough, no weeding.

Another hint. I discovered that pantyhose were good for more than “squash hammocks.” That’s where you tie the nylons to trellises or stakes so squash and melons are hoisted off the ground: Good for circulation.

To make a long story short, I was messing around in the shed, and I tried on a pair. Pantyhose are much better than support socks in keeping the blood circulating. Now I wear them under my suit at the bank.

Hi, Henry-oh-henry,

I see the men are catching up to the women with smarts. Gals, have you tried wearing panty hose? Bet they’d work great under dresses.

Dear Eli,

I bought a paper shredder. Now I have confetti for parties and to stuff pillows with. As I was throwing away the box, I saw the label showing how you can destroy documents so the garbagemen won’t get your account numbers. What a snoop could do with the top of my electric bill I don’t want to know.

While sprucing up, I came across five crates of old love letters. I once was pretty popular. Through the shredder they went. Then I thought of our electric bill. Now there’s chopped love letters on top of the blown-fiber insulation in the attic.

If my beloved Weimar only knew what was in the ceiling above the bed!


Hi, Lovey-dovey,

Weimar may never know, but thanks for sharing with the rest of America.

I was getting worried about you readers. No one was coming up with unusual, or at least trivial, alternate ways to use household items. There you came along, and put your dirty laundry, so to speak, between you and the hot sun.

Have one last letter here that renews my faith in you practical folks.

Dear Eli,

I figured out a way to make razor blades last three times as long. Now that triple-bladed cartridges have come out, I buy a five-pack, take them apart, and have 15 blades. I fix a single blade in my locking pliers, lather up and away go the whiskers.


Hi, Nick,

How’d you get your name?

Got to run. I’ve got two publications to revise. Hugs.


Where Do You Go When You Want Humane Care?

Mirthology column, 1st run Wednesday 7 March 1990 in the Arkansas Democrat

By Ben S. Pollock

Copyright 1990 Ben S. Pollock

Waking up with a stopped-up ear is a nuisance. You know the cause — the previous week’s head cold — and that it’s not infected — no pain. Yet, the ear needs fixing, because people are having to shout for you to hear them.

The hardest part of getting my ear treated recently was persuading my cat to help. She hates going to the doctor.

Would this make better sense if I started at the beginning?

A couple of weeks ago, my left ear closed up completely. The right one wasn’t hearing so good, either.

I went to my internist, Rufus Finkleman, M.D. As usual, I sat for an hour in his waiting room until I was called to an examining room. Five minutes later, a nurse came in for my blood pressure and to say the doctor would be in right away.

I shivered, half-dressed, for another 25 minutes until Dr. Rufus flowed into the cubicle, dapper in a black turtleneck.

“You got the ‘crud’ that’s been going around?” he asked pleasantly in his closed-mouth drawl.

“I guess so,” I said, adding it was centered in my left ear.

Just then, Dr. Rufus was called away to take a phone call from another doctor. When he returned he glanced in my ear with a small flashlight, having written, while out of the room, prescriptions for 10 days’ worth of antibiotic and decongestant pills.

When the full course of pills didn’t work, I decided I wanted an old-fashioned doctor, one with compassion and patience, one who returned phone calls directly, not through a nurse.

I contacted the office of Finkleman’s sister Doris Finkleman, D.V.M. To avoid suspicion, I made the appointment in the name of my 5 3/4-year-old kitty, B.C. (for Ben’s Cat).

The veterinarian was known for rapport with her patients.

My long-haired calico was reluctant to go along with this plan. I had to drop her, butt first and by surprise, into her carrier, like when I take her for the annual car ride for vaccinations.

The receptionist asked, as all vet secretaries do, “What’s our problem today?” in the royal we.

So I answered similarly and thus honestly for once, “Our ear.”

She led me immediately into the antiseptic-smelling cubicle and sprayed disinfectant automatically on the Formica table. She said I should get B.C. out of her cage once she closed the door.

I placed B.C. in her box on the master’s chair and climbed onto the examination counter, waiting there on all fours. Within seconds — this being a vet’s office — Dr. Doris entered through the room’s second door.

You should have seen the look on her face.

Once I explained my situation, the alarm left her face. “Does Rufus know you’re here? Did my brother,” she said, chortling, “refer you to me?”

The preliminary interview taken care of, my new Dr. Finkleman offered to take my temperature, avoiding most of the obvious jokes. I declined.

She asked if I preferred my penicillin shot in the middle of my back or in the meaty part of my thigh. When I flinched at that, she stroked me under my chin with one hand and tickled the space between my eyes with another finger, which was surprisingly calming. I almost purred.

Doris then found a penlight in the pocket of her white lab coat and looked carefully into my ears.

“I don’t see any wax, Ben, but there is some fluid in the left canal that didn’t drain after your cold. It will go away in a week by itself. You can help it along by pinching your nostrils and blowing gently — like after a plane ride — to help clear your Eustachian tubes.

“Do that a few times a day. When that left ear pops, you’re cured,” she said.

“You’re not going to give me any medicine?” I asked.

“I don’t prescribe pills, I dispense them here. Besides, you certainly wouldn’t want to size tablets I offer. I was just joking about the injection, too.”

Dr. Doris hesitated. No doctor criticizes another lightly.

“I don’t know why my brother wrote those prescriptions. He must not have looked closely in your ear. I could see the fluid through your eardrum.”

I hopped off the table. Dr. Doris gave B.C. a sample chewable vitamin, like a pediatrician gives a child a lollipop.

I got a different sort of treat: Dr. Doris signed my insurance claim form. I’ve been laughing about that ever since I turned it over to the personnel office at work.